Situated in the western part of the Algerian desert, near the frontier between Algeria and the SADR. They are divided in 4 districts (wilaya) bearing the names of El Aaiun, the capital of Western Sahara; Smara, the sacred town; Dajla, the largest port, Auserd, a little town in the interior of the country, and Boujador, a small city on the coast. They are completely self-organised by the Saharawis themselves represented by the different authorities of the Saharawi Government and civil society.
Each camp is sub-divided into 6 or 7 villages (daira), each village into 4 quarters. The organization of the camps, is almost entirely in the hands of the women.
Over 165.000 Saharawi Men, women and children live in the refugee camps for nearly 37 years in one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, where the summer temperature rises to more than 50 degrees in the shade and in winter it is freezing cold. Thanks to the solid organization and the large feeling of solidarity, the Saharawi people were able to build an organized society in this desert.
Thanks to a strong input on hygiene, the Sahrawi people were able to prevent epidemics and control the high infantile mortality rate. The greatest attention is given to prevention by the Committee for Health Care, but treatment has also great importance. In the camps the women are trained to become assistant nurses for helping out in the dispensaries, a number of students are already being trained abroad to become nurses or doctors.
At the time of the Moroccan invasion in 1975 the illiteracy rate of the Sahrawi’s was 95%, a heritage from the Spanish colonisation. At present, after almost 37 years in exile, the Sahrawi’s have succeeded in reversing this figure so that the number of people able to read and write is now more than 90%. In every village, there are kindergartens and primary schools. For secondary education the Saharawi students benefit from scholarships in Algeria or Cuba and other countries.
A great deal of attention has been concentrated on the campaign for the elimination of illiteracy. The majority of the adults have the opportunity to learn to read and write. Higher level courses result in a greater standard of education.
For the women, a certain number of schools for women or centres were created. The 27th of February school was the first to give women the possibility to learn technical jobs and formed thousands of nurses, teachers, administrators..etc.
The Sahrawi people rely on songs, story telling, drawings and paintings to perpetuate their traditions and their history to the younger generations. War and the building of camps have caused a break-up in this cycle. The Ministry of Culture wants to maximize chances given to the younger generation to become competent in this field. The Sahrawi people should be ready, after independence, to carry on the construction work using important elements taken from their own tradition and culture.
In the camps, the Saharawis also built the institutions for the Ministry of Information. The Saharawi State built a National Radio that broadcasts to all North Africa and Europe. It is also available on the net, with a live broadcast online. There are also regional radios in the different Wilaya. In 2009, the Saharawi TV, RASD-TV started broadcasting on Hispasat, after years of regional land analogical broadcasting.
The Saharawi online Medias are also very active. There is an official Press Agency, and many websites covering all languages, most of them independent pages run by active young saharawis.
The refugees also host a lot of International cultural events. The most famous of which are: The Cinema Festival, FISAHARA, the harsh marathon competition SAHARA-MARATHON, and the cultural festival ARTIFARITI. To these events thousands of athletes, artists, film-makers, intellectuals, journalists and civil societies’ actors participate coming from all countries of the world.
In the Saharawi refugee camps a lot of other activities are organized, conferences, seminars, sports competition, and the Saharawi civil society is among the most active civil societies in North Africa.